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A bankruptcy judge has given the Tribune Company the OK to award bonuses totaling more than $45 million to 720 executives and top managers. This development was reported in a business brief in Thursday's Tribune and, curiously, in a considerably longer story in Thursday's New York Times. Both papers noted that the bonuses had been opposed as excessive by the bankruptcy trustee and by the chapter of the Newspaper Guild representing editorial employees of the Baltimore Sun, a Tribune paper.
(Note that only about half the Tribune story linked to above ran in the newspaper.)
Add the editorial staff of the Tribune to those who don't think much of the bonuses.
While the company fought in court last year for the right to dispense tens of millions of dollars among the top brass, it froze the wages of the rank and file. But in response to all the persistent grumbling, toward the end of the year publisher Tony Hunter and editor Gerould Kern offered the staff some consolation. The year 2009 was turning out surprisingly well — if earnings stayed on track management hoped to restore merit raises in 2010.
Last Thursday Hunter and Kern gathered their staff in the Tower. They described 2009 as, all things considered, a fine year, with the publishing and broadcasting sides both exceeding expectations . Tribune Company is on its way back — and they made a lengthy presentation of its prospects. As for those executive bonuses (by my reckoning they'd average about $63,000 a person)... Necessary and appropriate, said Hunter and Kern, if we're to retain our able leadership.
What about the staff raises? they were asked during the Q and A. From what I hear, it was an awkward moment. Actually, said Hunter and Kern, there won't be any. There'd been a change of plans, company wide, everything decided at the highest levels. No raises — in fact, staff raises at Tribune Company might be a thing of the past. But there would be lump sum bonuses, and about 40 percent of the staff would get them.
A bonus is not the same thing as a raise. A bonus doesn't increase an employee's base pay. You might get a bonus this year, but if you don't get it next year too you're back where you started.
By the end of the day, I'm told, the atmosphere at the Tribune was "toxic." The phantom raises have been a big topic of conversation ever since, and gallows humor prevails.